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Amid coronavirus, Israelis open small home-based food businesses

SC 03/03/2021 9


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 It’s been a year since most Israelis have eaten a proper meal in a restaurant. In place of the dining-out experience, some entrepreneurial restaurant owners are organizing group deliveries to a different community each night.

Typically, a local resident helps advertise and distribute group orders for their neighbors.
Another new wrinkle on the Israeli food scene is the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Israelis who have opened small, home-based food businesses, selling a specialized selection of prepared foods, including soups, challot, deli meats, cookies, hummus, gluten-free desserts, chicken poppers, pickles, vegetarian Tex-Mex, sushi, Italian dishes, specialty pastries, meat pies and fresh salads.
Adi D. from Efrat officially launched Adi’s Cookies on February 1. What started as a side-hustle turned into full-time business selling prebaked and frozen cookie dough balls.
Adi finds herself “as busy as I can be. Right now, I’m working out of my kitchen, with a standard mixer and oven.”
She serves customers in Efrat and Jerusalem at present.
“I have been asked to come to Tel Aviv and further north, but I need a few bakery upgrades before that can happen,” she commented.

COVID, and the need to reinvent herself, factored into Adi’s launch to “a large extent. Both my husband and I have had to redefine ourselves during the epidemic. As a professional photographer, work was difficult to come by, but almost everyone loves cookies!”
Her business might be brand-new, but her plans are already quite ambitious. “I will eventually be getting my [kashrut certification], because my ultimate vision is to become the Mrs. Fields of Israel. But I’ll never compromise on the quality of my cookies.
“I make my own mint chips, because they aren’t available here, and let’s be honest, everything tastes better when it’s homemade.
“I plan to soon release a peanut butter cookie that is a family recipe that dates back almost 100 years, and that cookie will be made with homemade peanut butter.
“All are parve, and I don’t use margarine. I use a coconut-based fat that does not have any trans fats in all my cookies.
“I believe that the energy and intention we put into the things we do shine through. I put a lot of love and happiness into my cookies, and I really think that makes a huge difference,” she commented.
Having found a way to express her creative and nurturing side, Adi plans to stay in business even if COVID disappears tomorrow. “Cookies have a way of providing a sense of nurturing. I put a bit of Mom/Granny into my cookies. 
“I love hearing about conversations that happen around my cookies. Almost each one has at least one secret or special ingredient. People love to ask me if their guess is correct. Most of the time they aren’t.”
Reflecting on the proliferation of new home-based food businesses, Adi commented, “I think corona’s food start-up scene has restored a certain sense of trust that we have forgotten about. Some may have, but many of these home-based businesses don’t have kashrut certification. It’s really quite beautiful that we trust each other in this way.”
JUSTIN WINDERBAUM opened Justin’s Pies to share his love of the Aussie-style meat pies he grew up on in Sydney.
Based in Ra’anana, Justin’s Pies are delivered to individual customers all over Israel, including the greater Jerusalem area.
Winderbaum launched Justin’s Pies during COVID-19 when he noted, “I had some extra time to think things over and wanted to bring a taste of Australia, where I am from, to Israel.” 
Winderbaum, who also works as an English and sports teacher, started Justin’s Pies part-time, but it has since become a full-time operation. He’s recently “added the steak and ale and apple pie” to his original eight pies.
With kosher certification, he has begun catering “for small functions, and people have started to have pie nights. If COVID would be over, it won’t affect my business. [Justin’s Pies] come frozen and you pop them in the oven when you want to eat them. Kids love them, too, so the parents are always happy,” he shared.
Justin’s Pies can be ordered at 052-411-9176.
IT’S NOT just adults who are flexing their entrepreneurial muscles. Although Neveh Daniel-based Azi Holtz is only in sixth grade, he bakes and sells around 70 fully customized challot each week with delivery to Efrat and Jerusalem.
His mother, Sari Holtz, explained, “Customers can choose the toppings (za’atar, sesame, sugar crumbs or bagel spices) and mix-ins (pesto or fried onions) and choose their level of doneness.”
Holtz launched Challot by Azi when he was just 11. “I started my business during the first lockdown. I wanted to make money, and I discovered that baking challot could be a fun and easy way to do this.
“I saw that a lot of people were busy with their kids, and didn’t have time to make or buy challa, so I make it for them and deliver for free.
“Business is going well. I have repeat customers and new ones each week. Over time, I added new offerings like pizza dough, round challot, spelt challot, and custom toppings like fried onions and pesto.
“Last week two customers ordered babka for the first time. They arrived fresh out of the oven, and both called before Shabbat to tell me that they ate it before Shabbat because it smelled so good.”
As a sixth grader, school is his priority. Currently, he manages to keep up with orders because he doesn’t have class on Thursdays and Fridays. But that doesn’t mean he’s not learning.
“I’m only 12, but I’ve learned so much, and have even been able to employ my sisters who can’t babysit during COVID times.”
Azi’s mother added that “he gives 10% of his proceeds to tzedakah, and he built the website (aziholtz.wixsite.com/bakery) by himself, too.”
FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD Merav Hurwitz is another young person from Neveh Daniel who went into business during COVID.
She makes and sells cookie-decorating kits, which include 15 cookies in five different shapes, three colors of icing, sprinkles and an instruction booklet, which is available in English or Hebrew. 
When not running Merav’s Cookies, Hurwitz attends school on Zoom.
“I launched my business during COVID [which] was a big factor in my decision,” she reported. “I am creative and always enjoyed baking. I tried to think of something I could do to make it more enjoyable for families stuck at home during COVID. 
“I was home more, instead of being at school, and since I couldn’t socialize much or do babysitting as I did before COVID, I wanted to do something fun for myself and for others.”
Hurwitz took a graphic design course before launching, which enabled her to do all the graphics for her business herself. She also fills special requests such as custom icing colors, “and I have also made and decorated a few special birthday cakes per requests.”
Her cake decorating kits are a flexible business, so even after the COVID crisis passes, “I still plan to offer my kits. I’ll be happy to offer custom kits for birthday parties and special occasions. I plan to offer different kits – with cookies on different themes and different colored icing.
“I got a special order from a teacher who wanted to treat her students and give them a special activity.
“I have gotten great feedback – people from all ages are enjoying my kits. A few mothers proudly sent me photos of their kids enjoying the kits and pictures of the end results,” she shared. 
Legalities
Since it’s prohibitively expensive and all but impossible for small, home-based food businesses to be fully licensed, most fly under the radar, relying on the willingness of customers, deprived of the opportunity to eat out, to purchase their food.
Existing food businesses face tough competition from small, home-based proprietors who have very little overhead and are unregulated.
Simon Seitz is an Israeli lawyer with 20 years of experience practicing law in Jerusalem. In his legal practice, he has advised clients about establishing home-based food businesses.
Seitz explained that, in his experience, a lot of small, home-based food businesses “do operate with kashrut certification, as it is a relatively small cost. Those that do not either cannot afford the fee along with other start-up costs or do not wish to have certification for their own reasons.”
He explained that, for example, in Gush Etzion, a food business must operate from a dedicated business kitchen, as opposed to a home kitchen, to qualify for a kashrut certificate. 
The other legal issue is whether the home-based business is licensed by the Health Ministry. Here, Seitz explained, most small, home-based food businesses cannot even qualify.
“The fees are high in the sky, with no concession for small businesses. The law is very strict, regulated, demanding, and requires a lot of the business owner. For example, not only must the kitchen not be in a home, but it must also be in a building zoned as commercial. This can already increase the rental by a significant amount. 
“Sometimes, the pure bureaucracy involved is enough to stop a person [from] applying for the license.
“Again, a start-up cannot afford the extra expenses connected to obtaining a license, let alone the equipment required in order to satisfy the license requirements of the Ministry of Health.”
In order to make it possible for small, home-based food businesses to comply, Seitz suggests, “fees and regulations should be a lot less demanding of start-ups.”

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Co-Host for Coffee Mouth Scarecrow Show. Retired NAVY Chief/Flag Writer Psalms 118:24 This is the day which the LORD hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

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